Washington Dog Bite Injury Laws & Owner Liability Rules

When can a dog bite victim sue the dog owner in Washington? Learn about the personal injury liability rules and defenses here.

The state of Washington is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bites. Here, we'll look at some of the laws that affect Washington dog bite cases, including the state's statute of limitations for injury claims and the specific contents of its dog bite statute. We'll also discuss what it means to be a "strict liability" dog bite state and look at some defenses a dog owner might raise in a dog bite lawsuit in the state of Washington.

Time Limits for Washington Dog Bite Lawsuits

Washington's deadline, or "statute of limitations," for filing personal injury claims includes lawsuits filed after a dog bite. A dog bite claim must be filed in a Washington court within three years of the date of injury in most cases. A lawsuit that is filed after this three-year deadline expires is likely to be thrown out without a hearing, making it highly important to know how the statute of limitations applies to your case.

Washington's Dog Bite Statute

Washington's dog bite statute, Revised Code of Washington section 16.08.040, states that a dog's owner is liable for dog bite injuries the dog inflicts if:

  • the injured person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, and
  • the injured person did not provoke the dog.

This liability applies only to injuries caused by a dog bite. Injuries caused by other dog behavior are covered by Washington's negligence laws. For instance, suppose that a girl is playing on the sidewalk in front of her house when the neighbor's dog runs out of its yard and knocks her over, injuring her. To recover damages for her injuries, the girl will have to show that the dog wouldn't have knocked her over if the owner had used reasonable care to restrain the animal or otherwise prevent the injury.

"Strict Liability" Dog Bite Law in Washington

Washington is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bite injury liability. This means that a dog owner may be liable the first time a dog bites, even if the owner didn't know and had no reason to know the dog might bite someone.

About half of U.S. states follow a "strict liability" rule for dog bites, injuries caused by other dog behaviors, or both. The rest generally follow a "one bite" rule. The "one bite" rule states that a dog's owner must know or have reason to know the dog is dangerous before he or she can be held liable for damages. The most common way to establish this knowledge is to show the owner knew the dog had bitten someone in the past, but "one bite" states also allow prior aggressive or dangerous behavior to be demonstrated in other ways.

Defenses to Washington Dog Bite Claims

A dog owner facing a dog bite lawsuit in Washington has two commonly-used defenses: provocation and trespassing. A dog owner may argue both defenses in the same case, if both apply.

Washington's dog bite law specifies that "Proof of provocation of the attack by the injured person shall be a complete defense to an action for damages." In other words, if the dog owner can show that the bitten person provoked the bite, the owner will not be liable for any damages. For example, suppose that an owner's dog jumps the fence between the owner's yard and the neighbor's yard and bites the neighbor. The owner will not be liable for damages resulting from the bite if the owner can show the dog only jumped the fence and attacked because the neighbor was provoking it -- such as by injuring the dog.

A dog owner may also argue that an injured person was trespassing. Washington's dog bite law requires a bitten person to be on public property or "lawfully" on private property in order to recover damages. A person who is trespassing is on private property unlawfully, or without either permission or a specific duty (such as mail delivery) that requires him or her to be on the property. Homeowner liability for trespasser injuries is limited in several ways, including for dog bite injuries under Washington's dog bite law.

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